Updated: Gmail gets phone calling functionality

If there's any truth to the latest story over at CNet News, you might be able to make phone calls directly from Gmail before too long. Although the site doesn't mention a source, it claims to have "learned" of Google's plans, and it has a few screenshots with pixelated contacts lists to prove it.

The shots suggest Google will shoehorn the web-to-phone functionality into Gmail's existing chat widget. That widget lets users send instant messages via Google Talk and AOL Instant Messenger, and it also offers computer-to-computer voice and video calling via a browser plug-in. Letting folks call real phones doesn't seem like such a stretch, then.

The rumor seems especially plausible considering Google's acquisition of Gizmo5 last year. Gizmo5, in Google's own words, "provides Internet-based calling software for mobile phones and computers."

I'd certainly welcome a solid, easy-to-use alternative to Skype for cheap international calling. Skype does have the benefit of running on smart phones (namely Android devices and the iPhone), so Google would need a similar app for me to make the switch. A web-based solution would probably work just fine with those upcoming Chrome OS slates, though.

Update 11:40AM: Rumor confirmed!

The "Call phone" feature appeared on my Gmail account this morning. Google details international call rates here.

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